A leading Birmingham city councillor has been cleared by the local government ethics watchdog over allegations that he behaved disrespectfully to members of a local business association.

The Standards Board for England found Martin Mullaney expressed his views on the A34 Stratford Road Red Route parking restrictions in a "frank and robust manner", but was not rude or abusive.

Coun Mullaney (Lib Dem Moseley & Kings Heath), who chairs the council transportation scrutiny committee, had been reported to the Standards Board by Stratford Road Business Association official Abdullah Vanat.

The basis of Mr Vanat's complaint was that Coun Mullaney "disrespected" traders through comments published on a local website.

It was also alleged Coun Mullaney made unreasonable demands for financial information from the SRBA, demanding audited accounts for three years from all of the association's members, while conducting a scrutiny inquiry into the tough on-street parking clampdown introduced by the Red Route.

An inquiry by Coun Mullaney's scrutiny committee rejected claims by traders that takings in Balti Belt restaurants and other shops were sharply down as a result of the parking ban and recommended the experimental Red Route be made permanent.

Standards Board referrals manager Lucy Morris said inquiries had shown Coun Mullaney to be acting as a private individual, not as a councillor, when he posted comments about the SRBA on a website. He was not, therefore, subject to the council code of conduct and there was no need for a formal investigation.

Even if he had been governed by council rules his remarks were not "overtly rude or abusive", Ms Morris added.

She continued: "It was considered that Coun

Mullaney was expressing his views on the matter in a frank and robust manner.

"The Standards Board for England recognises that issues such as the Red Route on the A34 will generate a considerable amount of community interest and there will be differing opinions. However, the Standards Board recognises that members are entitled to express their views even though they may be at variance with the opinions of others."

It is the second time this year that Coun Mullaney has been investigated by the Standards Board. In March, he was ordered to apologise along with fellow councillor Ernie Hendricks for entering private property without permission to make a video which he said was intended to expose the parlous state of a listed building in Moseley.

The council's own Standards Committee found both councillors failed to treat the owner of the building, Safdar Zaman, with respect.

Coun Mullaney refused to apologise and is appealing against the decision. If he loses the appeal he will be suspended from carrying his council duties for one month.

Mr Zaman has lodged a second complaint with the Standards Board, again accusing Coun Mullaney of refusing to treat him with respect.

Coun Mullaney described the Standards Board decision not to take action against him over the Red Route as a "victory for freedom of speech and common sense".

He is urging an overhaul of the board's definition of "disrespectful behaviour" by councillors, arguing that the phrase is open-ended and likely to stifle the action of politicians.

Coun Mullaney added: "This is opening up a hornets nest where Joe Public can say he finds whatever councillors say is disrespectful. As councillors we should be able to discuss what we are doing and why we are doing it."